JUNE 25, 2020–Relativity Space, a company planning to create satellite launch vehicles almost entirely by 3D printing, has announced that they will be constructing a new launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, along with a contract from Iridium Communications to launch six Iridium NEXT spare satellites on an as-needed basis from the Vandenberg site.
Relativity and the 30th Space Wing (30SW) are currently evaluating the viability of conducting launch operations at a location at Vandenberg known as Building 330 (B-330) and the surrounding land area. With the B-330 pad, Relativity’s launch options will span a complete range of orbital inclinations, with the B-330 pad complementing the Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 16.
Tim Ellis, CEO of Relativity, said “We’re honored to begin this partnership with the 30th Space Wing and join the exclusive group of private space companies able to conduct launches at Vandenberg.”
“The West Coast launch facilities allow Relativity to provide affordable access to polar and sun sync orbits that are critical for both government and commercial customers. The geographic southerly position of B-330 at Vandenberg offers schedule certainty and increased launch frequency that will be advantageous to our Terran 1 customers.”
Terran 1 is Relativity’s entry into the small-satellite New Space market. T1 is capable of lifting 1250 kg to a low earth orbit, and is powered by nine Aeon 1 engines on its first stage, along with an Aeon Vacuum engine on the second stage. All components of the T1 vehicle are 3D-printed, and the rocket runs on methane fuel, similar to upcoming launch vehicles such as New Glenn, Vulcan, and Starship.
The B-330 pad at Vandenberg along with LC-16 will support the Terran launch vehicle. Vandenberg AFB is home to the 30th Space Wing, which manages the Dept. of Defense’s space and missile testing, along with the Western launch range.
Col. Anthony J. Mastalir, commander of the 30th Space Wing, commented that “The 30th Space Wing takes great pride in supporting the next generation of leaders in space. We are impressed by Relativity’s innovative approach to reinventing aerospace manufacturing via 3D metal printing and robotics paired with an executive team of seasoned aerospace leaders. We look forward to working with Relativity as its West Coast launch partner for many years to come.”
The Vandenberg B-330 pad will expand Relativity’s major infrastructure, which currently includes Launch Complex 16 along with an exclusive-use Commercial Space Launch Act agreement for NASA test sites E2 and E4 at the Stennis Space Center.
As for the Iridium missions, Relativity and Iridium have signed a contract for up to six dedicated launches to deploy Iridium’s ground spare satellites for the Iridium NEXT network to Low Earth Orbit. Iridium NEXT is a network of 66 satellites, plus nine on-orbit spares, launched by Falcon 9 over the course of the last few years. Six extra ground spares were manufactured, which will be launched from the B-330 pad aboard the Terran 1 vehicle, should one be needed.
“The upgraded Iridium satellite constellation is operating incredibly well, but it’s prudent to have a cost-effective launch option available for future spare delivery,” stated Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium Communications. “Relativity’s Terran 1 fits our launch needs to LEO well from both a price, responsiveness, and capability perspective. And we know based on our previous experience that there are great benefits to engaging with a provider early on during development of the launch vehicle and it evolving around our particular needs.”
As for Relativity’s side, Ellis, CEO, said “Iridium offers critical communications over the planet’s entire surface, and we are very proud to be their launch partner that supports this capability.”
“As the first 3D printed launch vehicle, Terran 1 offers uniquely disruptive flexibility, cost, and performance advantages, especially for medium-payload missions that need dedicated launches.”
The Iridium contract from the B-330 pad has launches scheduled to begin no earlier than 2023. As for LC-16, there are multiple launches with partners such as Spaceflight, a cube-sat launch provider, and Momentus, an in-space shuttle service that moves satellites between orbits. These launches are scheduled to begin in 2021, and Relativity is showing no signs of stopping.